Two aristocrats given life-long seats in parliament on fewer than 20 votes

Two aristocrats have been given life-long seats in parliament with fewer than 20 votes between them.

Lord Meston and Lord De Clifford have been voted in as new crossbench peers via a hereditary by-election, following the retirement of Lord Hylton and the death of Lord Palmer earlier this year.

The two new peers, who qualified to stand to fill the vacancies through birthright, faced a vote by 23 other crossbench peers on Tuesday, September 19 [1].

The two new appointments mean that the 92 hereditary peers who sit in the lord will continue to be all male. The two new peers will sit as ‘crossbenchers ’, meaning they will have no affiliation to any political party.

Following the 1999 Lords reforms most hereditary peers were removed from the upper chamber, leaving the current 92 seats.

Under the current rules, when a sitting hereditary peer retires or passes away, fellow hereditary lords from their party or group who do not sit in the house – on this occasion the crossbench group – may nominate themselves for election to be voted upon by the rest of their party or group. In this by-election, 13 nominated themselves and the eligible electorate was made of 32 peers [2].

The election to fill the two vacancies was conducted by the single transferable vote (STV) system, which saw only 23 votes cast – from the electorate of 32 – for the 13 candidates.

Lord Meston was elected in the first round, after receiving 11 votes. Lord De Clifford received four first-preference votes in the first round, which was short of the 7.67 vote threshold required to be elected. He was then elected after receiving a total of 9.5 votes after the surplus votes from Lord Meston and then disqualified candidates were redistributed in subsequent rounds.

Willie Sullivan, Senior Director (Campaigns) at the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“Today’s hereditary by-election throws into stark relief the ongoing absurdity of the current House of Lords.

“Two men have effectively each been given a life-long job voting in parliament and affecting our laws due to the circumstances of their birth. These sham by-elections are merely a fig leaf covering an undemocratic and antiquated system not fit for a 21st-century democracy.

“This underlines the urgent case for reforming the Lords and replacing it with a smaller, truly elected upper chamber, where the people of this country – not small bands of aristocrats – decide who shape the laws we all live under.”